At this time last year, veteran writer Brian Michael Bendis was at the center of much speculation.
Following nearly two decades at Marvel, Bendis was preparing a new chapter at DC. He’d debuted in April with a story in Action Comics #1000 and had another to follow in DC Nation #0, with a six-part Man of Steel series to launch soon after. Speculation swirled over what Bendis would do, how would he handle Superman after years of Spider-Man, Daredevil, Jessica Jones, and mutants? Would he tell street-level crime stories, as he did while rising, or hem closer to publisher-wide mega-events that had defined his recent years?
But that was then. Now, as Bendis starts year two at DC, he is again a source of speculation. This time, however, the talk stems from stories on the page. At the end of May, Bendis has a Superman: Leviathan Rising 80-page special coming. This one-shot—on which he is joined by writers Greg Rucka, Marc Andreyko, and Matt Fraction, plus artists Steve Lieber, Mike Perkins, and Yanick Paquette—will launch three new titles. Two will be Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen comics, helmed by Rucka/Perkins and Fraction/Lieber respectively, while the third will be Event Leviathan, a six-part story written by Bendis and drawn by long-time collaborator Alex Maleev.
Recent issues of Action Comics have paved the way for Event Leviathan, but it really accelerates in this week’s DC’s Year of the Villain #1, via a Bendis/Maleev story starring Batgirl and Green Arrow. The central mystery is Who is Leviathan? For clues, The Beat recently spoke with Bendis over the phone. A transcript follows…
Brian Michael Bendis Q&A
Zack Quaintance: First off, with DC’s Year of the Villain coming, can I ask who are some of your favorite DC villains and why?
Bendis: Scott Snyder, Tom King, Geoff Johns….no, I must say I just had the best time playing [Lego DC Super-Villains] with my son. My feeling on the DC villains has completely been warped by my son lecturing me about the power and awesomeness of Solomon Grundy, who is not in any of my work this coming year. But when I told my son I wasn’t actually writing any Solomon Grundy, he looked at me like I had no value. So, I must say that the game really opened my eyes to some of the cooler villains that I haven’t played with yet. You’ll see the answer to that in the next year or two.
My mandate since I’ve got to DC has been as cool as the classic villains are is that we need new villains and villains that speak to what’s been going on in the world now and what’s been going on in the heroes’ lives now. I’ve been adding new villains to Superman’s books, and Leviathan is among them. What I’m excited about is that we’re all hunkering down and doing our big stories with our villains, and we realized we’ve got a lot of cool villain stories going on at the same time, so here we are.
Quaintance: About Leviathan…what makes Leviathan such a cool villain and such a pressing threat for the heroes?
Bendis: Right away you’re going to see in the the 25 cent [Year of the Villains #1] issue that there’s a way that the heroes and villains interact that is very much like cops and robbers. What Leviathan is offering is another thing. Again, they’ll pitch it in the 25 cent issue, but it’s a third thing and that third thing disrupts both what the heroes and the villains have been trying to accomplish for themselves.
But at the same time, like some of the best villains—Magneto, Lex Luthor—you’re going to understand very clearly where they’re coming from and why they want what they want. It’s a pretty good argument he’s making, it’s a pretty sexy argument he or she is making, and that’s going to be part of the problem for the detectives. It’s not playing by the rules that have been setup in the DC Universe.
Quaintance: In order to get to a place as a writer where you can write a villain who’s making an argument like that, is there an emotional state you need to reach to get in their mindset?
Bendis: Yeah, empathy. Like, I haven’t punched anyone in years. Even that, even having Superman throw a punch and getting into the mindset of that being the answer to the problem is something you’re constantly doing as a writer. With villains, you get to really go, why would someone go this far?
When people do these things, they’re pushed to the edge, so finding a character that has been pushed this far and has been inspired to do this is just so much fun to write. It’s getting out of everything you think you know about a character like this and diving into the other things. Every character is the hero of their story, the star of their book, so just staying on that premise for each character can get you very far in a story. He believes in what he believes. They believe what they believe. I keep saying he, like it’s a he. I’m not saying it’s a he, that’s crazy!
Quaintance: Well, you know, if I was trying to find out who Leviathan is, any hints you could give me on where I should be looking for clues?
Bendis: It started in Action Comics #1006. I’ll say that’s where the clues flat out started, but you’re really going to have some big ones starting in the next two issues of Action Comics and in the [Superman: Leviathan Rising] 80-page special coming by myself and Yanick Paquette. It is gorgeous. Yanick posted a piece from it last night, and it is stunning. That Superman special will be a very big piece on who Leviathan is and how they’ve gotten where they’ve gotten. Also, how they’ve accomplished so much so quickly right under the noses of the Justice League and everybody else. That’s all going to be answered.
On top of that, the Superman special will also debut the first work by Matt Fraction on his Jimmy Olsen book with Steve Lieber, and Greg Rucka’s Lois Lane chapter that he did with Mike Perkins will setup the Lois Lane book that’s coming. This is a very special time in the Superman office, on top of it being a time for this giant Leviathan story that we’re telling.
Quaintance: Absolutely. All of those books look really exciting…
Bendis: I got to say, last night I saw the last pages coming from Yanick, and they were better than anything he’s ever done before. Like, oh my god. It’s a Superman special, and he made it special.
Quaintance: I’ve started to see some guesses online about who Leviathan is. Are you getting many and has anyone actually gotten close yet?
Bendis: Let me talk about this for a second, because it’s funny. Greg Rucka actually mentioned this years ago. The hardest thing to do in any kind of fiction now is mystery fiction, because everyone is online and everyone is guessing. It’s fun, that’s what you want, but I can’t respond to any of it. Even if someone said something crazy like, I know Leviathan is really Jessica Jones. Well, no that’s not true, that’s not going to happen, but if I say, ‘Oh no, that’s not true,’ I’m now crossing things off of people’s lists and I can’t do that. I have to let the story do it.
It’s fun to be online and interacting with fans all day, but it’s a bummer because I have big mysteries going on in the DC Universe right now—not only with Event Leviathan, but Naomi is a mystery that really took off. People are constantly throwing out awesome theories and really enjoying their comics—and it makes me so happy—but if I interact at all with it, other than in a tongue-in-cheek way, I’ll ruin it for everybody. So, I have to be very careful with how I interact, but keep the guesses coming. In the end, I promise those who guess right or those who guess close will be lauded by me.
But may I say…a lot of people? Flat out wrong. They’re projecting a lot of stuff onto me and the characters that may not be there, but I enjoy that as well and I think the audience does, too.
Quaintance: You’ve said Leviathan is a story that you and Alex Maleev wanted to do for a long time, going back years, can you tell us about the genesis of this idea?
Bendis: Back when Alex and I were on Daredevil and things were really working out for us creatively, we got a call from DC. Not to be bragging, but we got a blank check, a come-do-Batman-and-do-whatever-you-want call. We couldn’t do it. We were under a contract, and also, Daredevil was where we belonged. But when you get a call like that—I don’t think it’s hard to imagine—it stays with you. It’s like, oh my god, when you’re trying to break into comics your whole life and someone calls up and says, ‘Do you want Batman?’ I do want Batman! But, it’s not the time. So, for many years we’d think about what we’d do if we came there and what it would be like. For years, I would say, if I came to DC Comics, I wouldn’t do Batman with Alex, I would do Plastic Man. Everybody thought I was joking, but I wasn’t.
So, when the idea of coming to DC came about, I called up Alex and a couple of my other very close partners from creator-owned stuff. Alex and I had been working on Scarlet the entire time, which is by the way the book where the style for Leviathan was developed, if people want to know. I said to Alex, ‘I think we’re going to do Scarlet at DC Comics.’ And he goes, ‘Oh great, then we can do our Batman epic.’
So, I knew that I would be developing a big storyline for Alex. This storyline from the get go was only to serve Alex, and then all the pieces started falling in and all of it became this big within the DC Universe. Dan DiDio then came afterward with a pretty interesting storytelling challenge, which is that there are an enormous amount of redundant organizations in the DCU, and if we could tell a story that fixed that, that would be interesting.
Quaintance: That art you’ve been sharing by Alex with Batgirl and Green Arrow, that’s just been phenomenal. How many DC characters are we going to get to see Alex draw?
Bendis: That’s what happens, too. When an artist is getting to scratch an itch, it’s the best stuff, no matter what book it is or no matter what company. When an artist is unleashed on something they’ve been dying to do, you get work that looks this beautiful. So you go, ‘Well that’s about the best Lois Lane I’ve ever seen,’ and then you go, ‘Well that’s about the best Batgirl I’ve ever seen.’ Then you go, what else can I give him?
You’re going to see a smorgasbord of characters come on board, because we have a lot of suspects. When people see the 25-cent issue storyline, and hear Leviathan’s pitch, they’re going to realize how big of a pitch it is and how true of a pitch it is and how big the story can get just from there. Also, the last line of dialogue in the 25-cent special may be upsetting to some people and also it will open doors up for a lot of characters in this story.
Quaintance: Is there something drawing this character to Batgirl?
Bendis: Batgirl is one of the few people in the DC Universe that Leviathan is going to pitch to. Leviathan’s pitch to Batgirl is that you’ve been part of seven or eight major things that have happened in the DC Universe, and none of them clicked. Could it be that none of them clicked because what you’re doing is not working? The world isn’t better, you’re not better, so come with me, and I’ll show you how we’re going to make it better. That’s a pretty good pitch for someone like Batgirl, and a lot of people in the DCU. Not only is it a good pitch, but it’s a pretty scary pitch if it’s true. It’s not a villain pitching you a lie, he’s pitching you a truth. That’s so much more dangerous.
Quaintance: One last question…anything you can tell us about the possibility of a certain Legion of Superheroes showing up soon?
Bendis: Long-live the Legion. Hashtag. Keep reading Superman, on sale now.